Hydrogen Hungry Bacteria Bring Artificial Leaf One Step Closer to Viability

by Liza Farr

In 2011, Daniel Nocera engineered an artificial leaf that uses only sun and water to produce energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). The leaf was made of silicon solar plates with different catalytic materials bonded on each side (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). When the plate is placed in water and exposed to sunlight, one side produces hydrogen bubbles, and one side oxygen bubbles, which can be stored and used for energy (Chandler, Sep 30, 2011). Although this was an important innovation in renewable energy, major shortcomings of the invention was that it produced hydrogen, which does not easily fit into our existing energy infrastructure, rather than liquid fuel. Recently, Nocera has collaborated with biologists at Harvard University to engineer bacteria that convert hydrogen into an alcohol-based fuel (Nunez, Feb 9, 2015). Continue reading